Why is it that we hear, “they are so sheltered!” with a quick laugh and a condescending tone? As if it is a bad thing to have a child unaware of the harsh reality of the world we live in. Whether it is the cartoon movies with adult humor, or the suggestive photographs casually placed at the checkout lane or the billboard you pass on your way home, there is enough out there clamoring for their attention that we wish wasn’t so in their face. If we are being completely honest with ourselves, the world taints a child’s innocence at too early of an age.
It has an effect; it makes a difference even when they don’t understand what they are seeing. The first movie I was ever taken to see in a movie theater was The Ref, a movie about an armed robber who kidnaps a husband and wife and even ties and gags their son in their closet. I am not at all saying this particular instance or film was the sole reason, but I still very vividly remember that at a young age I started having reoccurring dreams of being kidnapped, sometimes it ended in me being drowned and other times featured sexual assault. Looking back my heart aches; I didn’t even know what it meant to be sexually assaulted at that young of an age, but I visualized it in my dreams and could feel the horror and shame of seeing it when I woke up.
These dreams and variations of them looped for years on end, and every once and a while I still have them as an adult. I am embarrassed to admit it, but if I am being honest, I still don’t feel exactly comfortable in a dark room when I am alone. The thing is, as children, we don’t know “this is fake, these monsters, these bad guys aren’t real, this is just a movie.” We can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is fake, so we take it all in and accept it as so. Even in terms of language that children hear, a young child doesn’t know, “I shouldn’t say this, this is something that adults say but it isn’t right for me to say it.” They can’t understand at that level, they hear other people say it and their sponge-like brains absorb it and file it away as another word or phrase to add to their growing vocabulary.
The unfortunate thing is even when we think we escaped those bad influences and are cuddling up to watch a “cute, innocent, family-friendly movie,” it is there. The first movie I ever took my 2-year-old to see in a movie theater was The Secret Life of Pets. Silly me thought, “oh cute! He will enjoy seeing the dogs, cats, and other animals have an adventure together.” Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of it that were cute, but there were several scenes that left me wanting to cover my son’s ears and left me a “sad momma bear.” Before you think I am insane or too overprotective, hear me out. There was one scene in particular that still leaves me a little flustered, where the animals are gathered in a sewer and being praised for being “human killers.” The first time they used the term I cringed and thought “maybe he didn’t hear it.” Until they started to chant “human killers” and go into great detail about the specific ways they have tortured and killed humans before. Yeah. I may lose you here, but I don’t feel like letting my 2-year-old watch Toy Story because of the horrific things Sid does in torturing his toys and taking immense pleasure in it. Or read books that feature cartoon cars making fun of and bullying each other. The glaring question I want to shout is “Why is it necessary?” In general, why does a kid movie or book have to have such heavy conflict, unnecessary scenes displaying bad influences, and corroded language.
I am not naive, I very well know that a time will come when my children will open their eyes and their rose-colored view of this world will be missing from their gaze, but why not preserve it while they are young. Preserve it as long as we possibly can, because these years are so fleeting and when they are gone we can never go back. Let them see the beauty in the simple things of life. Let them have a stronger understanding of what is right and wrong before their subconscious is asked to weigh in on things they don’t even understand. Right now, all they know is what they see and hear, let’s surround them with things and language that builds them up and shows them how to be a light in this world.